When you try to get a sense of just who Dechelle Brandon is -- her resume lists her current employment as budget manager of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV -- it doesn’t take you long to learn that she isn’t like most people you meet in Nevada’s largest metropolitan area.
Or in the state for that matter.
She’s a native of Las Vegas — someone born 52 years ago in Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital, now known as University Medical Center.
A true born and bred Las Vegas-Nevadan.
And that’s no small thing when you consider Nevada has the lowest number of native-born residents in the nation. A 2019 report released by The Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West at UNLV found that just 7.8 percent of adults in Clark County were born in Nevada. And 2017 U.S. Census Bureau survey data disclosed that only about 25 percent of the state’s 3 million-plus residents were born here.
So it goes for Brandon, a number cruncher who can crunch numbers with the best number crunchers around — a woman well aware of how the state’s booming economy has contributed to an astounding 900 percent increase in population over the last 50 years, who says that “doing my job well ensures that taxpayers’ money is being spent appropriately.”
A major driver for Brandon joining the medical school after 19 years at the College of Southern Nevada was the initial subpar care she believes her then-teenage daughter, Daijah, now 24, received for Crohn's disease.
“It was misdiagnosed for 18 months. It made me very angry,” Brandon says. “The doctor kept saying it was just constipation. Daijah was in constant pain, losing weight, and it seemed there was nothing I could do to make it better.
“It’s by far the most difficult situation I’ve had to deal with in my life. I cried myself to sleep many nights but I wouldn’t stop fighting to find out what was wrong with my daughter. I finally got a referral to a pediatric gastroenterologist who was a godsend. He did an endoscopy and colonoscopy, and we found out she had severe Chrone’s disease. He referred my daughter to a surgeon he hand-picked and even took over the fight with the insurance company so my daughter could get the medication she needed. Ever since my daughter’s surgery in 2015, she has been in remission.”
When a budget manager position opened at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, Brandon quickly applied. She wants to do her part to help the school do well financially so it can do good in the community.
“I want to be part of an organization that is working to bring better healthcare to Nevada,” she says. “People in Nevada deserve it.”
Deep Roots in Las Vegas
Willie Washington, Brandon’s father, played basketball for UNLV from 1968-70 before working for EG&G Energy Measurements, from which he retired as an electronic technician. "My father was an excellent provider,” Brandon notes. "We had everything we needed and the majority of what we wanted.”
Brandon’s mother, Dorothy, who’s also retired, started out as a teller at Nevada State Bank before landing a position as operations manager at Network Federal Credit Union (known today as America’s First Credit Union). “Their hard work and tenacity definitely influenced my work ethic and how I approach my professional life,” Brandon says.
The married mother of a daughter and two stepsons, Brandon says “Family is everything to me. There is nothing I like more than spending time with family. They are my greatest source of joy and strength … My husband, Tony Brandon, who works at the Orleans, is just a genuine, good person, helpful to whomever he can be of service to. My daughter has severe Crohn's disease but she’s been in remission, thank God, for six years. She’s now graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, and works at the Las Vegas YMCA as an early education teacher.
“Prior to COVID, it didn’t take much for our family to have a gathering. A quick visit to my parents’ house or an aunt’s house can easily turn into a pizza party...We love to put on elaborate functions.”
Once COVID-19 forced quarantines, the family turned to three-hour Zoom calls and socially distanced backyard movie nights.
“I’m 52 and when my husband and I are going out of town I still check in with my parents, let them know I arrived okay … I have to talk to my mom at least every other day. Her voice calms and comforts me.”
Brandon, who has a brother and sister living in Las Vegas, calls her childhood, when the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area was around 300,000 people in the 1970s, “storybook.”
“Life was great growing up. We loved to play outside, be it kickball, skating, riding bikes, or having relay races in the street. Sports are a big part of my childhood. After my father played on one of the first UNLV Rebel teams, he also played recreational basketball and coached youth basketball so we spent a lot of time at different gyms and recreational centers throughout the city.
“My grandfather taught the kids in our family to swim at Lake Mead. Family barbecues and reunions at parks that included Lorenzi, or Tule Springs (currently known as Floyd Lamb State Park) were the highlights of the summer. Another highlight was getting dressed in our best clothes and my grandfather taking us to Hush Puppies on Charleston Blvd. for dinner.”
Brandon’s maternal grandfather, as well as her parents, stressed the importance of studying hard and getting a solid education. “My grandfather grew up in the South where he didn’t get many opportunities because of his race and he wanted me to get them through education,” she says. “I think he only went as far as the sixth grade and then he took whatever job he could, picking cotton or working in steel mills … He ended up working for 30 years as a cook at the Nevada Test Site.” (about 60 miles from Las Vegas in Nye County, it was the primary testing location of American nuclear devices from 1951 to 1992).
Brandon’s grandfather died of cancer at age 68. He was one of many test site workers who won government settlements over radiation exposure.
School came easy to Brandon. “I loved the feeling of accomplishment and getting good grades. I was introduced to computers in seventh grade. I knew from that moment that I was going to college to study computers, in particular computer programming. I just love all that computers can do.”
After finishing high school at Southern Nevada Vocational Technical Center (now the Southeast Career Technical Academy), Brandon headed to Phoenix to attend DeVry Institute of Technology, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in computer information systems.
Jobs that followed at the National Nuclear Security Administration/Department of Energy and the College of Southern Nevada were often human resource computer data retrieval-related at first, but eventually morphed into the finance arena at CSN, where she became a budget analyst. Before leaving CSN for the medical school in 2019, she used her computer at night to earn master’s degrees in psychology and business administration from the University of Phoenix via distance learning.